WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill on Tuesday that gives the White House a Nov. 1 deadline to finish its review of Keystone XL, a controversial oil pipeline that would expand Canada's oil sand imports to refineries in Texas. The vote was 279-147 with one person abstaining.
The debate comes amid renewed concern about oil pipeline safety, following a recent oil spill at an ExxonMobil pipeline in Yellowstone and a series of leaks at an existing TransCanada oil pipeline known as Keystone 1.
The State Department, which has been tasked with executing the permitting process for the Keystone XL, has promised to carry out the review process by year's end. But the bill introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), H.R. 1938, would require that the White House make a decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1.
Democrats said Tuesday that the Canadian oil company's pipeline would only serve to give Canada access to foreign oil markets, while Republicans argued that the pipeline would help lower the country's gasoline prices.
Fred Upton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said that the pipeline would “essentially eliminate” Middle East oil imports and provide a massive influx of stable oil into the market.
"This country needs the president to make a decision on the Keystone XL’s permit," said Upton in remarks on the House floor Tuesday. "The uncertainty has gone on too long, and if we don’t act, these energy supplies will go someplace else."
The Obama administration on Monday denounced the legislation, calling it “unnecessary” and noting that Nov. 1 falls within just two months of the deadline established in the bill.
"The Department of State has been working diligently to complete the permit decision process for the Keystone XL pipeline and has publicly committed to reaching a decision before Dec. 31, 2011," wrote the White House's Office of Management and Budget in a statement released Monday. "Further, the bill conflicts with long-standing executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and the secretary of state, and could prevent the thorough consideration of complex issues which could have serious security, safety, environmental and other ramifications.”
Though the bill sailed through the House on Tuesday night, it is expected encounter significant roadblocks in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The debate comes after the White House blocked TransCanada from restarting Keystone 1, the 1,300-mile pipeline that carries crude oil from Canada to Oklahoma, concluding that "continued operation of the pipeline without corrective measures would be hazardous to life, property and the environment."
That Keystone 1 pipeline has spilled 12 times since it began operation less than a year ago.